'UDF's Sabarimala stance not progressive, but it saved Kerala' | VD Satheesan Interview


V D Satheesan, the Congress' well-read and most articulate leader in Kerala, believes that a true Congressman will prefer suicide to joining the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). For him, Congress is an ideology and those who understand that truly will never leave the party.

Ahead of the assembly elections in Kerala, Satheesan spoke to Onmanorama on a number of issues such as the UDF's stance on Sabarimala issue, row over KIIFB and the alleged nexus between the CPM and BJP in Kerala. Edited excerpts:

How do you react to senior leader K Sudhakaran's statement that Congress leaders may join BJP if the party cannot win the upcoming assembly polls in Kerala? Do the people of Kerala have a responsibility to save Congress leaders from not going to the BJP?

I think it's a hypothetical analysis. I don't agree with that. Reason one, there's no question of Congress losing this election. Congress-led UDF will have a thumping victory. Congress does not get carried away with successes. Nor does it wither overnight when it fails. Congress is an ideology. Those who have an understanding of that ideology will not leave the party. It would be easier for a true Congressman to think of suicide than joining a party which has no connection with his ideology like BJP.

He (Sudhakaran) may have made such a statement with a good intention. May be he wanted to energise the party cadre and make them understand that importance of this election. I don't doubt his intention. But I don't agree with it literally.

But Rahul Gandhi also made a similar statement. He said Congress governments will not be safe from BJP if they don't have at least two-thirds majority!

I can't agree with it, even if Rahul Gandhi said so. That's wrong. When Congress selects its candidates and office-bearers, their political background and commitment have to be important. In North India, the situation is different. There you can see an exodus of leaders and workers from a party that lose power to the one that wins. But it's not something that affects the organisational strength or ideology of the Congress.

BJP or its predecessor Jan Sangh is a political formation of the RSS. There are philosophical differences between the Congress and the BJP as far as the economic policies, political policies and secular policies are concerned.

There are some areas in which we can agree with even the Communist parties. But we cannot agree with the BJP at any point. Communism is a Left thinking. Congress is also Left. Was there any bigger Leftists than Pandit Nehru in India?

VD Satheesan

You speak a lot about Congress' ideology. You identify yourself as a Nehruvian socialist. Is the Congress' stance on Sabarimala issue right from a Nehruvian perspective. The party has proposed to bring in a legislation that promises to jail those who violate the temple's customs!

First of all, the UDF has not prepared any such Bill. Some leaders or lawyers associated with them have made some model proposals for such a law. Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala has said that UDF is exploring the possibilities of a legislation. Nothing has been finalised.

We have to look at the Sabarimala issue from two perspectives. The Supreme Court has said that all are equal before the law as per Article 14. The Constitution also ensures the freedom of religion. One has the right to believe in and propagate a religion by protecting its customs and traditions.

The debate on the theory of statism dates back to the days of drafting the Constitution. The core of the debate is the question that how far the state can interfere in religious matters. Judiciary is also a part of state. A large part of people said the state has the power to interfere. On the other hand, another section, including progressive minds, said the state should not interfere in such a fundamental right. Along with that there is a view that there should be movements to reform all religions as per the progress of a society. In the early days of Hinduism, there was human sacrifice and animal sacrifice. Now, can anyone think of such customs? Society do not agree with such customs. In all religions, progressive movements and reformation have to come from within. Let such movements come. Instead, if the state is given more power and freedom, it will interfere in people's religious matters excessively. We should also remember that the present government in India is not a secular one.

This is the academic perspective of the the Sabarimala issue. Kerala should have discussed this when the verdict came out. Instead of that the Kerala government handled the issue in a different way. People get hurt easily over such issues. Such issues should be dealt in a careful manner. That's good governance. We should not impose our views on the people. No matter how progressive an idea is, the people should be convinced and taken into confidence before it is implemented.

The government's interventions ended up provoking a set of people who are vulnerable when it comes to religious matters. The government should have made it a point of academic discussion. It could have told the Supreme Court that it agreed with the verdict in principle, but it needed some more time to implement it after taking the believers into confidence.

Rahul Gandhi with VD Satheesan
Rahul Gandhi with VD Satheesan. File photo: Manorama

UDF's stance is that it does not agree with the verdict even in principle. It wants to go back to the earlier affidavit that opposes women of child-bearing age entering the Sabarimala temple.

The UDF's stance was meant to avoid conflict in society. It is the government that triggered all the controversies. We strongly doubt that the entire controversy was part of the government's attempt to create a political space for the BJP. During the Sabarimala agitations, CPM leaders had told me personally that they hoped that BJP would rise drastically and Congress would go to the third position. But then we had a stance. Our stance was to stand with the believers. Along with that we had to prevent the BJP's plan to make it a communal issue. I believe it was the UDF's stance and intervention that stopped the Sabarimala issue becoming an extreme communal issue.
I do not claim that it was a progressive stance. It was an intelligent and careful stance.

The controversy over KIIFB is still raging. What's the UDF's alternative to KIIFB?

Let me make it clear. We are not against KIIFB. The legislation for KIIFB was made by the UDF. The LDF introduced an amendment and made it a new law. During the discussions over it in the Assembly, we had raised several issues relating to the unconstitutionality of it. The same issues have been raised in a case pending before the high court now.

Government has some limitations. It has to work within the framework of Constitution. The present government has sanctioned projects worth Rs 65,000 and implemented those worth Rs 6,000 crore. The bills for the remaining projects have to be cleared during the term of the next government. CPM leaders including Thomas Isaac know that Kerala will have an alternative government. KIIFB has left huge financial liability on the next government.

But then the projects realised using KIIFB are a reality. People have in front of them the bridges, better schools buildings etc made using KIIFB funds.

It's all wrong. KIFFB has not shown any such miracle. The previous UDF government had built 245 bridges without KIIFB. Has the present government constructed even half of it? Construction of school buildings is not something new in Kerala. It's all a misleading campaign using PR agencies. Let me give you an example. After the UDF government came, an MLA was allotted a fund of Rs 1 crore and asset development fund of Rs 5 crore per year. This means Rs 30 crore in five years. Most of the MLAs, including me, have spent 75 per cent of the funds for educational institutions. How much has KIIFB given? KIIFB has given Rs 10 crore to Rs 15 crore to a constituency.

The claims over Life Mission is another campaign. Life Mission is a scheme consolidating the five existing housing schemes of the central and state governments. The LDF government's claim that they have constructed 2.5 lakhs houses is wrong. Construction of 75,000 houses included in the list were started during the UDF regime. The UDF government had given 4.5 lakh houses from the five schemes. It was stated in the assembly.

VD Satheesan
V D Satheeshan. File photo: Manorama

Congress leaders claim that there's CPM-BJP alliance in Kerala. Isn't it just a wild allegation? Do you have any evidence for that?

We firmly believe that there's an alliance between the CPM and the BJP. The BJP's agenda is Congress-mukt Bharat. Their aim is to eliminate Congress and become the principal opposition party in Kerala. For the BJP, it's much easier to eat into the Left's space. We have seen it in Tripura and West Bengal. The biggest evidence for the alliance is the disappearance of the central agencies, which had been hovering over the secretariat. At a certain stage of the election, we will reveal the number of seats.

BJP has announced E Sreedharan as its CM candidate in Kerala. How do you look at the BJP's chances this time?

BJP's announcement of a CM candidate in Kerala is the biggest joke of the 21st century. What's his relevance? What does he know about the political background of Kerala? Will the people of Kerala go after a person present all over media when he is declared as a CM candidate. Joining BJP has only dented his image.

I admire Sreedharan as a great engineer. But I have had disagreements with him earlier too. He works on projects without tenders. If there's an option to implement a project without tender, it can be finished very fast. I have made my objection against his style in party forums earlier.

It's certain that you will be the UDF candidate from Paravur this time too. How do you look at the UDF's prospects in Paravur?

Whoever be the candidate, the UDF candidate in Paravur will win with a huge margin. Our organisational strength in Paravur is so strong.

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